For most companies content marketing is not just an awareness and advertising tool but forms the basis of their inbound marketing efforts--or, as HubSpot's Dharmesh Shah likes to call it, selling to humans--to pull in customers rather than using ads that often push them away.

Of course some companies do a great job of creating compelling, helpful, useful content, and others do a terrible job.

And now I know why.

I saw** Lone Survivor, the movie based on Marcus Luttrell's book about the Navy SEAL mission Operation Red Wings. I asked Jeff Boss, a 13-year SEAL veteran with four Bronze Stars with Valor and two Purple Hearts (he now works for the McChrystal Group) what he thought of the movie.

That led to a general discussion of SEALs writing books, a reasonably controversial topic after No Easy Day was written by a former Navy SEAL that took part in the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. The subject is also one Jeff has thought a lot about since he's just finished writing a book about leadership, humility, and organizational fitness that draws on his military and business experience.

Here's what Jeff had to say:

Writing is frowned upon in the SEAL Teams. In fact it may be the fastest way to become ostracized from the community. However, recent events in the last few years have given rise to more and more special operators turned author or movie star--some for the greater good, others for the greater glory.

So, why do Team guys choose to emerge from the shadows and into the public eye? After spending 13 years in the SEAL Teams, here's my take.

SEALs believe in purpose. A strong sense of purpose, meaning, and direction are what fuel young men to redefine their own definitions of impossible and persevere through the most arduous military training on the planet: BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training.)

Purpose is the fuel that sparks the desire for yet another deployment and another chance to run back into the fray despite having just returned and despite having just squeaked past enemy bullets. SEALs return to the fight because their purpose has not yet been served.

I know, this sounds crazy, but you know what? We never chose it. We didn't wake up one day and say, "Hmmm, I think I want to risk my life for the next thirteen years." Instead our purpose finds us.

Writing is no different.

Writing fuels the mind. It fulfills. It creates. It unleashes. What that writing is about, however, is another matter. There are two types of SEAL-turned-writer:

  1. The Operator as writer. Or as I like to say, the "We" minded. They write as a means of creating value for others or because it's personally and emotionally fulfilling.
  2. The writer as Operator. The "Me" minded.  Unfortunately some Team guys just want to beat their chests, become famous, and tell others how awesome they are, because their arrogance fuels them.

Me sucks. Ego on display is incredibly off-putting because if you're that good at something you shouldn't have to tell anyone--they already know.

We minded operators, on the other hand, write because it fuels them. It's personal. It's rewarding. And for some it's a release.

Bottom line: if you have an experience or unique perspective that can create value for others in ways that do not promote yourself, then do it. If you enjoy writing (like I do) and want to contribute in a positive light, go for it.

But if the sole intent of coming out of the shadows and into the public eye is to essentially say, "Look at me! Look at me!" or to drop the "S(EAL)-bomb" in hopes of feeling more important, hey, stay indoors.

Now take a hard look at what you create for content marketing purposes. Is your content ego driven? Does it exist simply to serve the greater glory of you? Is your content just one big, thinly-veiled ball of self promotion?

If so, that could be the main reason your content fails to attract, and build, and engage an audience.

You don't have an audience because your content doesn't serve your audience.

It only serves you.

The best content marketing will let people learn from your knowledge, your experience, and even your mistakes. And it's easy to create. Forget what you would like to say, instead think, "What do they need to know?" and then deliver in the way that best meets their needs.

Effective content marketing serves your audience and then, and only then, can it also serve you.

** Great movie. No way you won't shed a few tears at the end. And definitely no way you won't walk out better understanding the debt we owe to everyone who serves.